- Can increase strength and conditioning
- Can increase muscle size
- Convenient size and form factor
- Safe and easy to use
- Abs Fit maximum intensity is too low
- Body Fit can be uncomfortable
- Replacement gel pads are expensive
- Review Price: £350.00
- Electrical Muscle Stimulation
- Abs Fit and Body Fit kits
- Battery life lasts for 30 uses
- 15-level intensity adjustment
- Transportable size
What is the Sixpad?
Cristiano Ronaldo is a rather divisive person; folk either love or hate the guy. But one aspect of “CR7” that most can agree on is that he has a rather enviable body. Everyone has seen the photos of his chiselled torso when he rips his shirt off in goal celebration, or where he’s stripped down to his underwear for whatever fashion brand he’s currently pedalling.
So when Cristiano Ronaldo puts his name to promoting “revolutionary training gear”, it’s hard not to at least be a little intrigued. The Sixpad is that product. It’s based around “electrical muscle stimulation”, a principle that’s been around from the days of Slendertone’s devices.
EMS technology initially came about as a means to stave off muscle atrophy in spinal injury sufferers, and has also been used for muscle re-education for those having trouble with muscle contraction – stroke sufferers, for example. So it has a solid scientific background.
Essentially, electrical current is pushed through the muscle, causing a contraction, which automates the need to knock out endless reps. Such is the theory, anyway.
Having tested the Sixpad for more than two months now, I can at least say that the system works from a strength and conditioning perspective. I made genuine strength gains that left the sceptic in me surprised.
But those looking for a shortcut to a six-pack will be disappointed to hear that the Sixpad isn’t a magic-bullet solution. You’re still going to need to put in some hard graft – and fix your diet – if you want those rippling abdominals you’ve always dreamed about. Sorry, abs really are made in the kitchen.
Related: Best fitness trackers
Sixpad – Design and Setup
The Sixpad is available as either the Abs Fit (£150), which is worn on your abdominal muscles, or the Body Fit, which can be worn on your arms, legs or waist. The Body Fit is available as a single (£110) or twin-pack (£220), allowing you to work two areas at once. A combo pack includes both the Abs Fit and Body Fit for £350.
The Abs Fit device is designed to match the shape of your abdominals, with the intensity control unit at the centre of the device. The Body Fit is shaped more like a boomerang, since it’s meant to wrap around your limbs or waist. Both devices are made from a soft, flexible rubber that contours to your body.
They have a slim design, which means that you could theoretically wear them under clothing without anyone noticing – at least until you turn them on, but more on this later.
The system is far more elegant than EMS systems that have separate control units connected to individual pads through cables, although with those you can be more specific with individual pad placement.
Both devices require you to attach conductive gel pads to the rear electrodes, and one set is included with each of the Abs Fit and Body Fit kits. The gels help to carry the electrical current into your body, but are an ongoing cost you’ll need to keep in mind as they need replacing after around 30 uses.
The Abs Fit uses six gel pads and the Body Fit uses two, and these are available as complete packs for £24 and £15 respectively. Multi-pack options will work out cheaper.
A transportation sleeve is included in the box, alongside a hard backing to help preserve the gel pads when not in use. The sleeve is essentially one of those sliding bar folders you probably used in school – one of the sleeves managed to jam shut during testing, so they’re not great.
The Sixpad kit is small enough to take with you on trips where you know you’re unlikely to have time to train, which is handy for those who get anxious about not hitting the gym.
Related: Withings Body Cardio review
Once you’ve applied the gel pads, simply insert the included watch battery into the main control unit. You then line up the Sixpad device with the corresponding muscle group. When the gel pads are fresh, they have a decent amount of stickiness to them, so you’ll find that the Sixpad stays in position well. After a few uses the adhesion deteriorates, however, so a velcro belt is included to hold it in place. It’s advisable to use the belt to ensure a consistent level of conduction.
With everything in place, you turn the Sixpad on by holding the “+” button on the control unit. You then have 15 levels of intensity, which you can dial up or down using the controls. Holding the “-” button will turn the unit off if you want to finish early; otherwise, a session takes about 20 minutes.
Sixpad – Electrical Muscle Stimulation
Sixpad advises that you start out on a low level and then gradually increase the intensity each time you use the device. I, too, would recommend taking this approach since it allows you to apply some linear progression as your muscles adapt to the training stimulus.
A single session runs in a distinct pattern, gradually ramping up with short bursts of current interspersed with longer durations and pulsations. This means your muscles experience different types of contractions during a session and some short rest periods too.
Speak to any bodybuilder or weight-trainer and you’ll probably hear the phrase “time under tension”, and it’s this that causes the muscle breakdown and corresponding repair that leads to growth.
The varied current, which is specifically delivered at 20Hz, is designed to maximise this time under tension for the aim of muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth), which requires a specific level and type of stimulation.
When it comes to using the Sixpad, the actual training experience between the Abs Fit and the Body Fit devices differs quite drastically, so I’ll describe each separately.
The Abs Fit is definitely the more comfortable of the two. The feeling of a contraction is similar to what you’d experience doing crunches. While the contraction is definitely something you feel, you’re still largely able to go about your day with it on and it’s still relatively discrete. I’d be able to watch TV or browse the internet, allowing me to multi-task without issue.
I initially started out on an intensity of level 8, but I’m now using it on 15 – the top-most level – and that feels like a limitation. The highest level doesn’t feel that intense after a few sessions, so a few extra levels would have been welcome.
Sixpad advises that you shouldn’t use the device more than once per day, so it’s difficult to see how you can apply any additional progression if you can’t add more time to the equation.
The Body Fit is a whole different experience, however, especially when worn on your arms. Even on a relatively low level, such as 5, the contraction is so strong that you involuntarily flex your arms, which in fairness is what you want for muscle stimulation.
But the electrical current even travelled down my forearms into my hands, causing my fingers to contort and lock in position rather uncomfortably. The loss of bodily control is really rather disconcerting.
Any notion of multitasking while wearing the Body Fit goes right out the window. Even on a low level the contractions are so distracting and powerful that your hands are essentially rendered useless. I wouldn’t call the experience painful, but it’s very uncomfortable and I did stop the session early on a few early occasions.
That’s completely involuntary flexing. Notice how my hands act like they’re possessed. I intentionally wiggle my fingers so you can see the point that the electrical current takes over.
With two Body Fit kits worn simultaneously, you’re forced to play imaginary drums.
The intensity is definitely a lot stronger when worn across your biceps compared to elsewhere, however. When worn across my quadriceps (the large muscle on the outside of your thighs), I was able to use a higher intensity and it didn’t result in my legs dangerously kicking out at anything nearby, nor did I experience the same level of discomfort.
The Body Fit is also designed to be worn on your waist, but I rarely tried this – in my opinion, it’s a fruitless endeavour. There isn’t much in the way of muscle across your waist, so there’s little reason to wear it here, plus you can’t spot-reduce fat for those looking to slim their waist down.
Without having hit the upper limit of training intensity, the Body Fit has the potential for more progress – at least in my case – but you’ll need to be able to cope with the discomfort. “No pain, no gain”, as the saying goes.
Sixpad – Does it work?
I largely used only the Abs Fit device consistently enough to draw conclusions, merely because it was the least intrusive to my day. The Body Fit really isn’t a comfortable experience when used on your biceps, and I only used it on my legs intermittently. I intend to continue using the Sixpad and so will update with further findings around the Body Fit.
My background is in powerlifting, so the majority of my observation with regards to the Abs Fit, beyond the typical “before and after” shots, were based on the impact to my strength training. I do a lot of squats and deadlifts, and as such I’d consider my core to be pretty strong already.
As a quick primer, the actual physiological purpose of your abdominal muscles is to support your spine. Without a strong core, you’d literally snap in half if your spine is loaded with a heavy barbell during a squat, or if you attempt to deadlift a heavy weight from the floor. It has load applied during powerlifting, which leads to an increase in strength.
Related: Best fitness trackers
That’s not to say that dedicated core training isn’t required alongside compound exercises such as the squat, however. I’ve typically done hanging leg raises and the occasional bicycle crunch as accessory work. During the period of testing the Sixpad, I ceased all dedicated core training, which was more than welcome as I don’t particularly enjoy it.
In the period of using the Sixpad Abs Fit once a day for two months, the maximal output of both my deadlifts and squats increased, and never did I feel like my core was compromised – even when knocking out a new personal best. My core felt stronger and I had greater confidence in avoiding potential injury.
I’ve been powerlifting for long enough that I can say with a great degree of confidence that my core actually became stronger after using the Sixpad. As a frame of reference, my deadlift went from 185kg to 195kg, while my bodyweight maintained at 62kg.
Now I wouldn’t attribute all the glory to the Sixpad – to do so would be folly since there are so many other variables at play when gaining strength. But I do feel it played a part when combined with my training.
Related: Skulpt Chisel review
As for whether I had put on any lean muscle, which will be most people’s aim – Sixpad claims you can put on up to 12% in abdominal muscle size in two months with the Abs Fit – that’s a difficult one to measure without expensive equipment. However, I don’t think I quite made that level of progress. Again, there are other variables at play that can have an impact on your level of progress, such as diet.
Visible abdominal muscles are a result of having a low body fat percentage – and that’s why people often say “abs are made in the kitchen”. You can have well-developed abdominal muscles but that will all be for naught if you have a layer of fat covering them. A degree of genetics plays a role here as well, which is why everyone seemingly has that friend who never trains but has an enviable six-pack.
To get a better gauge on whether I’d made any lean muscle gains, I lowered my body fat percentage with a week of zero carb dieting (the things I do for this job!) to help strip away some of the abdominal fat. The result was that I felt I did have more pronounced abdominal muscles by the end, and they definitely felt more solid and dense.
Here are some before and after photos. The photos admittedly don’t do the best job of showing progress. Also keep in mind that having a good six-pack is 90% flattering lighting, which intentionally wasn’t the case with these photos.
And if you need proof that good lighting (and an awesome backdrop) can give you a better six-pack:
But therein lies the potential problem for those looking towards the Sixpad as an instant fix. In isolation, it isn’t going to give you a miraculous six-pack; you’re still going to need to put in the hard work both in terms of training and diet. For me, the Sixpad is better thought of as a training aid.
The fact that I maxed out the Sixpad’s training intensity is also problematic, since your body is exceptionally good at adapting to stimulus, meaning progress eventually stalls.
It’s why linear progression is so important, and why you need to increase the level of muscle stimulation over time when weight training, be it with heavier weight or more reps. It’s difficult to see where I can go from here if I want to make additional progress with the Sixpad system.
At least if you’re an inexperienced trainer then it might take some time before you hit this ceiling, if you ever hit it at all. I’ve since had a short break away from the system while I was on holiday, but I intend to return to using it. I’ll update this review with further long-term observations.
But is the Sixpad a weight-loss tool? That’s a more difficult one to answer and, in fairness, Sixpad isn’t marketing itself as one. Nor is it guilty of some of the loftier claims that other EMS systems have made in the past.
In a sense it can be: by carrying additional lean muscle, your Basal Metabolic Rate should increase. BMR is the number of calories your body requires at rest to maintain its current composition. Additional lean muscle increases this requirement, so if you maintain the same calorie intake, while continuing to train to maintain the lean muscle, then you should lose some body fat. That’s taking a very basic view of fat loss, however.
Sixpad – Battery Life and Charging
The Sixpad uses a standard CR2032 watch battery, which is good for around 30 uses. A pair of demo batteries are included with each kit, but these won’t get you to 30 uses, so it’s worth picking up a few of your own. Changing the battery is easy: simply remove the cover on the back of the control unit using a coin and then swap them out.
Should I buy the Sixpad?
If viewed as a supplementary tool in your training arsenal, the Sixpad achieves its aim. If you’re looking at an easy way to get ripped without putting any effort it, not surprisingly, you’ll be disappointed. After all, if it were that easy then we’d all have a body like Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, I came in to testing the Sixpad with a high degree of scepticism. Two months on and I’m genuinely surprised at the results – at least from a strength perspective. As a training tool, used with expectations in check, it actually works.
Anything that can replace the need for arduous crunches and hanging leg lifts is a win in my books. But this applies only to the Abs Fit. The Body Fit is an altogether less enjoyable experience, and doesn’t blend as seamlessly into your day-to-day life as the Abs Fit. As a result, it’s more difficult to recommend – unless you’re a glutton for punishment, or plan to use it only on larger muscle groups such as your quadriceps.
The Sixpad system is already reasonably pricey, especially if you opt for the complete pack. You’ll have to factor in the ongoing cost of gel pads, too, which will be a sizeable dent in your wallet considering each pack lasts only a month if the device is used daily.
If you’re only interested in abdominal training, rather than arms or legs, then the Slendertone Connect Abs might also be a better choice. I tested it after having reviewed the Sixpad and found the connected app and greater level of power adjustment beneficial. The fact that it uses a rechargeable battery is also a bonus.
Still, if you have the cash, the Sixpad is a surprisingly effective system – as long as you apply some smart training and nutrition alongside it.
Thanks to Sixpad.uk for supplying the review unit.
The Sixpad isn’t going to provide the instant results some are looking for, but as a training aid it proves its worth